Bob Arum applauded Denzel Bentley for the British middleweight’s willingness to accept an assignment most contemporaries don’t seem to want.
For Janibek Alimkhanuly to become the type of attraction Arum envisions, however, the 90-year-old promoter realizes that the hard-hitting WBO 160-pound champion must prove himself against the top opponents within his division. If it costs Arum’s Top Rank Inc. a sizable sum from his company’s 2023 ESPN budget to lure another middleweight champion into the ring with Kazakhstan’s Alimkhanuly, so be it.
“If he takes care of business like I expect him to [against Bentley], then, you know, we’ll make a date available for any prominent middleweight that wants to step into the ring and fight him,” Arum told BoxingScene.com. “And we’ll pay him a great purse. I’m not gonna call out different names and so forth because all of these names that I would call out have promoters and they take exception. They say I’m trying to poach their fighter, that kind of sh*t. So, all I’m saying is that any top, top middleweight that wants to make a good purse and is willing to fight this guy, we’ll finance it and put on the fight.”
The most obvious opponent for Alimkhanuly (12-0, 8 KOs) if he beats Bentley on Saturday night in Las Vegas would be countryman Gennadiy Golovkin.
The 40-year-old Golovkin is free from his contractual commitment to DAZN and indicated after his 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat to rival Canelo Alvarez on September 17 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas that he will move back down from the super middleweight division to defend his IBF, IBO and WBA middleweight titles in his next fight. The 29-year-old Alimkhanuly has often expressed respect for the most famous fighter from his home country, but he is willing to challenge Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) in what would be an interesting title unification fight.
Jermall Charlo is boxing’s other recognized middleweight champion. Houston’s Charlo (32-0, 22 KOs) hasn’t fought in 16 months, withdrew from a voluntary WBC title defense against Poland’s Maceij Sulecki (30-2, 11 KOs) that was scheduled for June 18 due to a back injury and doesn’t have a bout scheduled.
If recent history is an accurate indication, though, Charlo’s alignment with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions makes it unlikely that he would accept a deal to square off against Alimkhanuly on ESPN.
Alimkhanuly would’ve welcomed fights against Demetrius Andrade or Jaime Munguia earlier this year, but both potential opponents pursued different paths.
Andrade (31-0, 19 KOs) relinquished his WBO middleweight title rather than defending it against Alimkhanuly. The southpaw from Providence, Rhode Island is expected to compete in the super middleweight division whenever he returns to the ring.
The WBO ordered an Alimkhanuly-Munguia match for its interim middleweight title, but Mexico’s Munguia (40-0, 32 KOs) declined to participate in it. Alimkhanuly instead knocked out British underdog Danny Dignum (14-1-1, 8 KOs) in the second round to win the interim championship May 21 at Resorts World Las Vegas.
The WBO ordered the winner of Alimkhanuly-Bentley to make a mandatory defense against Munguia at its annual convention late last month. Alimkhanuly isn’t convinced Munguia will take the fight this time, either.
“I don’t know why nowadays champions is not fighting with the champions,” Alimkhanuly said during a press conference Thursday to promote a 12-round main event ESPN+ will stream from Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort. “I don’t think they should be afraid. I am here. I am a champion now. I am here to fight the champions. And hopefully, Top Rank can organize my next fight to fight with a champion.”
Oddsmakers don’t consider London’s Bentley much of a threat to dethrone Alimkhanuly, who is mostly listed as a 20-1 favorite entering the first defense of his WBO belt. The 27-year-old Bentley (17-1-1, 14 KOs), who is the WBO’s ninth-ranked contender for Alimkhanuly’s championship, was stopped while still standing in the third round by British rival Felix Cash (15-0, 10 KOs) four fights ago.
Bentley has won three straight fights, including two by technical knockout, prior to securing this title shot.
“Janibek is fighting a capable English guy,” Arum said. “Not an Alan Minter, but a good middleweight, a good English middleweight. And we’ll take it from there.”
An optimistic Arum hopes Alimkhanuly gets the opportunity to prove he is the type of fighter the Hall-of-Fame promoter predicted when Top Rank signed him.
“When [manager] Egis [Klimas] asked me to promote him,” Arum recalled, “I told the guys [at Top Rank], ‘Just sign him. Don’t worry. You don’t have to look at him in the gym or anything. He’s gonna be tremendous.’ And he turned out to be that way. Now, that was maybe stupid on my part because how do you know? But I just had a feeling about the kid. I really believe that he has the potential not only to be good, but for greatness in the middleweight division.
“And I’m a sucker for the middleweights because of Marvin Hagler and [Carlos] Monzon, who I promoted, and Rodrigo Valdes. I’ve always been in love with the middleweight division. And I think this kid could be in that type of category. I’ve got a feeling about him. Now, this could all be crazy, could all be nuts, could be all an old man’s nostalgia. But that’s how I feel.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.